21 Dec 2013

Advent - December 21st - O Antiphons - O Oriens (O Morning Star)




Newgrange passage tomb lit up by the sun each year during the Winter Solstice Dec 21st
 
O Oriens, splendor lucis æternæ, et sol justitiæ: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
 
O Morning Star, splendour of eternal light and sun of justice, come and illumine those seated in darkness and the shadow of death.

Isaiah 9:2; Luke 1:9; Zech 6: 12-13; Heb 1:3; Malachi 4:2
 

  

 
It seems somewhat appriate that the Church sings her antiphon of longing today directed to the Morning Star (O Orien). In Ireland this morning as the sun rose, in an event 5,000 years old, the rays of sun light pierced the roofbox in the megalithic tomb at Newgrange and illuminated the central chamber.

While there is much speculation as to the meaning behind this neolithic construction which predates the pyramids of Egypt or Stonehenge in England, for us today it is a sign, a symbol of the turning of the year as today we mark the moment of movement away from the darkness of winter towards the daylight of summer.
 
“At the heart of all religious systems is an understanding and celebration of the seasonal cycle of natural and human life – and that is what Newgrange does.
 
“Today, we celebrate that long-gone world and the achievement of Neolithic ancestors, who were able, through the alignment of the monument, to capture the turning of the year, the sense of renewal and rebirth, which is an idea at the heart of Christmas. We should not be surprised, then, that the monument has become central to Christmas celebrations,”  - The Irish Times

It is the first time since 2007 (Irish Independent) that the weather has co-operated and the chamber been illuminated. If you were of a superstitious turn of mind perhaps we could take it as a sign that 2014 is going to be a better year for Ireland as 2007 was the year before the economic crash!

While some would say what has Newgrange got to do with Christianity, perhaps it is a reminder to us all of the in built need of humanity to acknowledge and respect the Divine around us all the time.

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

The sun shall no longer be
your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
give light to you by night;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.
Your sun shall no more go down,
or your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your days of mourning shall be ended.
Your people shall all be righteous;
they shall possess the land for ever.
They are the shoot that I planted, the work of my hands,
so that I might be glorified.
(cf Isaiah 60: 1-5, 19-21 NRSV)
 
The northern hemisphere enters the winter solstice today - the longest night is upon us. The sunlight - if we should have it - is weakened and short-lived. Our bodies and minds begin to long for the turning of the year - the gradual increase in day length that draws us into springtime. But we are not there yet. Today is the solstice - today we live the shortest day - looking ahead to a new and brighter dawn.
 
Reflections on the Antiphon:



Today’s O Antiphon relates directly to the experience of the Solstice, especially — but perhaps not exclusively — north of the equator. O Oriens! The antiphon on the Magnificat for today’s Vespers conjures images not of the evening, but of the morning. As a noun, today’s “O” is Daybreak, Dawn, Sunrise and Morning Star; as a verbal participle it is rising, originating, creating and birthing. Both grammatical forms suggest powerful imagery as we approach the feast of the Nativity of the Lord.

For those who for whom the past few weeks have marked the gradual decrease in daylight hours, today’s Solstice comes as a turning point. It is the beginning of the slow march toward Springtime and Easter. Today’s antiphon, situated on the Solstice, is a liturgical recognition of the change of season: the dawning of a new day, the gradual increasing of the daylight hours, the movement from the “shadow of death” toward the light of life.

For those in the Southern Hemisphere, of course, the slow march toward winter begins again today. Today’s antiphon comes as a promise that, however dark earths seasons may become, light will indeed increase again in time, the cycle repeating itself through the changing seasons, until that “dawn from on high will break upon us” once and for all.

This antiphon also suggests a challenge, by way of a certain anticipated eschatology. Note the connection between the Dawning or Daybreak and the Sun of Justice — “the sun of righteousness” that “shall rise, with healing in its wings” (Mal 4:2). The connection between the coming of the light and the power of healing (here meaning the sort of healing that comes with the Reign of God — wholeness, peace and security, well-being) is found elsewhere in Scripture. Its revelation follows upon our doing of justice, our participation in the making the Reign of God a present reality for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized and the outcast:

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. (Isaiah 58:6-8, NRSV)

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